1976 was a mere (!) 40 years ago but in many respects London in the 70’s had more in common with the 1930’s than the present day. In the late 60’s many of the old slums were starting to be demolished and Londoner’s were initially happy to move into new flats that weren’t damp and had an inside toilet. Steve Jones was born in 1955 in Shepherd’s Bush which like most of London had suffered terrible damage in the War. Jones’ upbringing was almost Dickensian, an only child whose father, a boxer, left when Jones was two years old. By the time he has reached the end of his teens Jones had spent periods in care and in a remand home. He was virtually illiterate and was pretty much set on a life of crime having already accrued several convictions and evaded a great many more.
His main interest apart from thieving were sex and music, like most young men of the time he was influenced by Glam particularly the more laddish bands like The Faces and he also harboured an admiration for The New York Dolls and The Stooges. He fell in with school mates Wally Nightingale and Paul Cook to form The Strand with Jones as the singer. The Strand were a phenomenally well-equipped band thanks to Jones (often abetted by Nightingale) and his ability to nick top quality musical equipment. Jones’ ability was legendary and he apparently managed to take David Bowie’s PA system as well as instruments from the like of Ron Wood and Keith Richards.
Unfortunately no matter how talented you are at theft the law will catch up with you at some point and Jones seemed set on a lifetime of prison sentences. One of the places he had started hanging around, possibly with the intention of a bit of shoplifting was Malcolm McLaren’s shop. McLaren became fascinated with Jones’ artful dodger persona and Jones in turn found an adult who was actually interested in him. When Jones ‘ confided the problems he was having with stable band personnel McLaren introduced him to shop assistant Glen Matlock, in turn Jones introduced Matlock to a bass guitar he had stolen. Like Jones Matlock was an only child but compared with the others he was a virtuoso musician, the Strand were now in the process of becoming The Swankers and had cranked up a gear now they had an adequate guitarist and bassist.
Correctly identifying McLaren as a man who could make things happen Jones badgered him to manage the band or at least come and see them. When he did finally arrive, allegedly with Nick Kent in tow,his first act was to sack Nightingale apparently for some of the weaker song choices. Without their best musician and with Kent as a brief substitute the band struggled yet again. Up to this point Jones had been using a guitar as a prop, he was a surprisingly under confident front man, but from now on he began to show an interest in actually playing it. In fact McLaren was to give him Sylvian Syvian’s guitar from the New York Dolls and Jones would take speed and play along to Stooges records for hours and hours. According to Kent who claimed to tutor him Jones was soon to develop in leaps and bounds as long as he remained firmly in his comfort zone which meant major chords only ( he was always derogatory of Matlock’s love of ‘wanky Beatles chords’).
Here he is explaining his style in his inimitable way
McLaren’s contribution to the band at this point was to name them QT Jones and the Sex Pistols. A bit of a plug for his shop and a reflection of his reference point of Larry Parnes and his rock and roll stable of stars. Steve Jones wasn’t a front man despite his hard man persona but by switching to guitar he was already starting to define the sound of punk. By this point Paul Cook was a competent drummer by virtue of having played in the band for a couple of years and Matlock actually knew a bit about playing the bass and musical harmony. Jones was initially as rough as a bears arse but with a semi competent rhythm section and a sense of purpose the band were coming on in leaps and bounds. Like a more basic version of the Feelgoods and Hot Rods or a less melodic Ramones the Sex Pistols were not messing about, they were going to keep things simple.
Without Wally Nightingale the band would never have existed but without Jones they would, at best have played a few covers round the pubs of west London and split up.With McLaren on board there was the opportunity to take things to a different level whatever that level might be.
Things still weren’t quite right, Jones wasn’t much of a singer, he wasn’t much of a guitarist either but he was getting better by the day. It was now time to recruit a person who could front the band and take them on to infamy.